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From Peisistratus to the papacy - Homeric translation and authority in the reign of Nicholas V

Nathaniel Hess

Cambridge University

In the wake of Petrarch, a translation of Homer into elegant Latin verse was a desideratum that continually evaded the grasp of quattrocento humanists. Nicholas V, a pope who was intimate with these circles, instigated a whirl of intellectual activity around the Roman Curia, partly to consolidate his recently and precariously centralised power; among the mass of Greek authors of which he commissioned translations, Homer was, significantly, the only poet. The immediate fruits of this (at least in terms of verse translation) were minimal: Carlo Marsuppini and Orazio Romano both produced versions of the first book of the Iliad, and there is precious little beyond that. But the project is worth examining, partly because it seems to begin a spate of further partial verse translations of Homer, and partly because incompleteness does not present us from considering the underlying discourses of power and textual authority which tend to accumulate around his work. Giannozzo Manetti, a major advisor on Nicholas’ projects, gives us some particularly compelling articulations of the intended ideological resonances. Of especial interest is the connection that he draws between Nicholas V, Peisistratus, and Ptolemy Philadelphus: the commissioning of a verse translation of Homer sits, as it were, at the interface between the Peisistratan recension of Homer, drawing fragments together into an authorised whole, and the Septuagint, a perfect collaborative translation - all of this, most importantly, under the aegis of a powerful monarch. I intend to examine not just the ideological constructions of Manetti - who tactically fails to acknowledge the failure of this particular project - but also the ways in which they might disclose, disseminate, or work against discourses operative in the work of translation itself. How does one produce an elegant verse translation when the canon of accuracy is the Septuagint myth? Is the idea of translation as a collaborative uniting of fragments a formative notion or a post factum fudge, and how does one connect it with the more interpersonal model of translation that would have the translator assuming the identity of the original author? Homer, both a privileged site of scholarly enterprise and a vividly imagined personality, is a pertinent focus for questions of this sort.

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Homer in the Renaissance

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